LARRY GUEST: For Almost 50 Years, Clint Hurdle Has Been One of Space Coast’s Most Revered Sons
By Larry Guest // February 5, 2020
Hurdle Called An Intentional Walk for Harvard
Clint Hurdle to be Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award at the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame Induction Gala May 8
For nearly 50 years, Clint Hurdle has been one of the Space Coast’s most revered sons. Just about every Brevardian knows he was a multisport Merritt Island High star athlete as a power-hitting outfielder and unstoppable quarterback.
They know he turned down football scholarship offers from the University of Miami and other major colleges to opt for a pro baseball career that included more than 500 MLB games as a starting outfielder and stints as a prominent manager primarily for the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates.
But few know he was also courted by another famous entity revered worldwide.
Clint was offered an academic scholarship to Harvard University after he was sent one of those much-desired letters of admission approval from that storied brain factory just outside Boston.
I ran into my old friend the other day at his annual Clint Hurdle charity golf tournament at Cocoa Beach Country Club – proceeds to the Merritt Island Dugout Club, boosters of the school’s baseball program.
His characteristic robust laugh erupted at the memory of being recruited by Harvard, a member of the Ivy League which prohibits athletic scholarships.
“They wanted me to play football and baseball, but warned that my grades could be a problem,” Clint recounted.
“They told me if I got in trouble with grades, I wouldn’t have to attend practices and they would help my grades by providing a personal tutor.”
Hurdle recounted, adding the obvious irony; at most big college powers, scholarship warriors must attend practice but classes not so much. Actually, the Harvard coach shouldn’t have worried about Clint’s classwork.
At Merritt Island High, he made one B (in drivers’ ed) and all A’s in the rest of his schoolboy classes. Is he a better driver now? “No,” Clint laughs.
Hurdle, 62, says going to Harvard tempted him, but after the Kansas City Royals picked him in the first round of the 1975 draft, he was off to a 45-year pro baseball career that came to an end (maybe) when he was fired by the Pirates last September and then announced his retirement from the game in November.
“That’s when I signed a lifetime contract with my family. Now I’m enjoying being home with my wife and kids at our (west coast Florida) home and not in airplanes and hotel rooms nine months a year.”
Making the transition easier is remaining time on his contract, which the Pirates must pay him for the next two years.
The people of Colorado loved him when he guided the Rockies to 90 wins, most in the expansion club’s 15-year history to that point.
Pittsburghers also were charmed by this big guy with a big personality when he turned around the Pirates by leading them to three playoff appearances after a 21-year post-season drought and was named NL Manager of the Year.
Then came last season when he tried to fill out the lineup card each day without his best two pitchers Gerrit Cole (traded to Houston) and Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery); his two best hitters, Starling Marte and Greg Polanco, whose injuries kept them out of a combined 150 games.
Franchise star Andrew McCutchen had departed the prior season for San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the Pirates finished way down in one of those old, familiar places in the standings. When the carnage was over, Clint was summoned to the front office. As the old baseball phrase goes: You can’t fire the players, so you fire the manager.
He spent a couple of weeks sitting by the phone. With credentials of leading then-woeful Colorado and Pittsburgh to those franchise milestone seasons, surely somebody would offer him one of the several managerial openings.
“But you can’t make people call you or make them love you,” said Clint.
Nevertheless, our session was delightfully interrupted by a phone chat with our mutual friend, Hawk Harrelson, the colorful onetime power hitter and longtime voice of the White Sox.
“You can’t judge how effective a manager is by reading what award he won,” offered Hawk. “You do it with your eyes – seeing whether a team plays hard for their manager. All the time he managed, I saw his players busting their butts for Clint.”
So unless Clint gets an occasional analyst spot on MLB or Fox-TV broadcasts, baseball will have to get along without an embraceable guy brainy enough to convert box scores into logarithms.
I’ve been exposed to dozens of baseball managers over my three-decades as a sports writer. I had to think hard of another worthy of an admission letter from Harvard. Winter Park’s Davey Johnson, maybe. But like Clint, even Johnson wasn’t brainy enough to avoid baseball’s cruel pink slip.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larry Guest is among America’s most respected and well-known sports columnists and book authors. He was a long-time editor and lead columnist at the Orlando Sentinel, a three-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year and best-selling author of “ARNIE: Inside the Legend,” “The Payne Stewart Story,” and several other sports-related books.
As a true journalist, he never steered away from controversy, for he always thought he owed his readers the truth.
Guest now lives in Cape Canaveral, Florida, with his wife Mary and was inducted into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame last May for his distinguished journalism career.
Below, you can enjoy Guest’s Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame tribute profile and video:
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: A three-time winner of the Florida Sports Writer of the Year award, Larry Guest for almost three decades served as the voice of sports for the Orlando Sentinel, where he was the newspaper’s syndicated lead sports columnist.
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME – There are plenty of sportswriters, but only a few true sports journalists who can go beyond the statistics to the heart of the athletes. Larry Guest is one the latter.
A three-time winner of the Florida Sports Writer of the Year award, Guest for almost three decades served as the voice of sports for the Orlando Sentinel, where he was the newspaper’s syndicated lead sports columnist.
The Washington Journalism Review listed Guest among the top 25 sportswriters in the nation.
During his tenure with the Sentinel, Guest covered 25 Masters’ Tournaments, a dozen U.S. and British Opens and half a dozen Olympics, plus many Super Bowls, Kentucky Derbies and Final Fours.
He didn’t just write about sports, he embedded himself in them, making personal friends with legends such as Payne Stewart, Arnold Palmer and coach Bobby Bowden.
“I always felt it was my responsibility not just to cover the story, but to connect with the athletes,” said Guest.
Nicknamed “Scoop” by the late Payne Stewart, Guest loved nothing more than to break local and national sports stories, a penchant made possible by the close professional and personal relationships he formed through years of unbiased coverage of sports headliners.
He learned from reading the very best, the work of the late Los Angeles Times Pulitzer-winning sportswriter Jim Murray.
“He was the king of sports columnists,” said Guest, who, like Murray, peppered his writing with humor about the idiosyncrasies of the players and their sports.
Just like Murray, Guest expanded beyond the boundaries of the newspaper page to books, seven of them.
His best-selling biographies include “Arnie: Inside the Legend” and “The Payne Stewart Story.” With sports executive Pat Williams, he wrote “Making Magic: How Orlando Won an NBA Team.”
In “Sports Icons “R Funny!” Guest reveals the humorous inside stories of sports superstars.
Guest began writing on sports at the then twice-weekly Brookhaven Leader Advertiser in Mississippi, where he grew up.
He developed as a writer as the paper expanded into a daily, allowing him the opportunity to cover stories such as the New Orleans Saints in their infancy.
The executive editor of the largest paper in the state, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, saw his work and liked Guest’s lighthearted but heartfelt coverage of sports and offered him a job as sports editor.
The Orlando Sentinel later scooped him for their own and there Guest remained until his retirement in 2000.
As a true journalist, he never steered away from controversy, for he always thought he owed his readers the truth. If he could put a smile on his readers’ faces while reporting on sports news, so much the better.
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